On the distinction between visual salience and stimulus-driven attentional capture

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1999 Jun;25(3):661-76. doi: 10.1037//0096-1523.25.3.661.


It is often assumed that the efficient detection of salient visual objects in search reflects stimulus-driven attentional capture. Evidence for this assumption, however, comes from tasks in which the salient object is task relevant and therefore may elicit a deliberate deployment of attention. In 9 experiments, participants searched for a nonsalient target (vertical among tilted bars). In each display, 1 bar was highly salient in a different dimension (e.g., color or motion). When the target and salient elements coincided only rarely, reducing the incentive to attend deliberately to the salient stimuli, response times depended little on whether the target was salient, although some interesting exceptions were observed. It is concluded that efficient selection of an element in visual search does not constitute evidence that the element captures attention in a purely stimulus-driven fashion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motion Perception / physiology*